Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Just as May is the month of Mary, who leads us to Christ, so June is the month of Christ’s most Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is a rich image of Christ’s love for us, and, therefore, of our personal relationship with him, and our participation in his gift of salvation. Over a century ago, Pope Leo XIII consecrated the whole world, and every human person, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart reminds us of many fundamental aspects of our faith. First, it points to the love of God. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” for our salvation (Jn 3:16). It was solely because of this love that he, the eternal word, the Son of God, came down from heaven and assumed our human nature in the womb of Mary, his virgin mother. For this love, burning in his human heart, he willingly accepted the passion and death on the cross, knowing that this would be the means of defeating sin and death and opening the gates of heaven. The Sacred Heart offers a vivid and immediate way of grasping the greatness of that love.
In the same way, the Sacred Heart points to our Lord’s passion. Pierced, bleeding and crowned with thorns, Christ’s heart pours out its life onto the whole world for the salvation of the whole world.
We all experience heartache and loss of many kinds. Christ is in the midst of that experience. By willingly choosing to accept the passion, he has already gone before us into the depths of our suffering and shares our pain with us. Therefore, our suffering can unite us to him. This does not make our suffering less, or easy to bear, but it does give our suffering meaning, and it does give hope. Because of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there is no human pain or suffering that must lead to despair. The strength of Christ flows from his Sacred Heart into the pain in our heart. With him, we can bear all things, because he bears them in us.
Therefore, the Sacred Heart also points to the great mercy of Christ. The image of the Divine Mercy given to St. Faustina shows the rays of mercy radiating from the pierced heart of Christ. The wound in the image of the Sacred Heart implies the same radiating mercy. From Christ’s love and willing sacrifice, we receive mercy for the forgiveness of sins, for healing of our own wounds and weakness, and for salvation.
We celebrate this mercy constantly, in every part of the life of the church. The Sacred Heart reminds us of its centrality and importance, keeps us focused on receiving it and empowers us to share with others what we have been freely given.
We especially receive Christ’s loving mercy, tangibly and concretely, in the holy sacraments.
Baptism washes away our sins, unites us to Christ the head of the church and prepares us to receive all the other sacraments.
Confession and anointing of the sick restore our baptismal purity and perfection, wounded by our personal sins, reconciling us to God and to the church, and giving spiritual – and sometimes bodily – health.
Confirmation cements in us the gifts of the Holy Spirit and empowers us for living the mission of the church in union with Christ’s witness and sacrifice for the kingdom of God.
Holy Eucharist makes us one with Christ, literally joining his most Sacred Heart to ours, and lifts us – if only for the briefest instant – from this world into heaven.
Matrimony gives a man and woman the power to model together Christ the Bridegroom’s perfect and eternal love for the church, his spotless bride, and invites them to share in God’s creative power in bringing children into the world.
Holy Orders models Christ the Head, who pours out his forgiveness of sins and empowers the priest to change the gifts of bread and wine into the Holy Eucharist.
The Sacred Heart embraces and points to all these sacraments, and the real gifts of grace, divine life, and power for mission which they confer.
Finally, the Sacred Heart of Jesus reorients us to our individual participation in the mission of the church. We are called by our baptism to live only in Christ. This is the “universal call to holiness.” Joined to his most Sacred Heart, our heart too can learn to love more perfectly and less selfishly, to embrace the joy of witnessing the Gospel of love even in the midst of difficulties and confusion and to sacrifice willingly for the salvation of others. In the world, but not of the world, lifted and strengthened by this loving union of heart to heart, we can become the disciples we are called to be, each according to our vocation and state in life.
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is therefore a beautiful summary of our faith and discipleship. It is also simple and practical for everyone. We can cultivate devotion to the Sacred Heart by going to Mass every Sunday (and perhaps more often, if able), with preparation and attention to what the holy sacrifice on the altar really is; by attending adoration more frequently; by meditating on the image of the Sacred Heart; by praying the Litany of the Sacred Heart, readily available on many Catholic websites and in devotional books; by praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy; by frequently invoking the Sacred Heart in the prayer, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us;” and in many other ways.
I encourage you, especially in this month of June, to ponder the mystery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the mercy that flows from it. Please pray for me, just as I pray daily for all of you.
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City
P.S. You may have noticed there is no schedule of events posted for me. I would ask that you keep me in your prayers as I will be having cataract surgery and will be recuperating during the month of June. This seems to be one of the repercussions of growing old, as last summer I had knee replacement surgery. Again, I thank you for all your prayers during that time. The good news is that I will most likely be good as new by the time the Denver Broncos start their season.